Musically, McCartney got the idea for the song after reading a newspaper review of the latest single by The Who. The review described the single as the loudest, wildest song ever recorded with distorted guitars, tons of reverb and screaming. McCartney took it as a challenge to write something louder. "Helter Skelter" was the result.
For a brief time, the working lyric of the song was "Heather Leather".
Charles Manson heard this song, and others from the White Album, in December 1968. Manson took this song and the entire album as a warning of a racial conflict. In Manson's mind, the Beatles were the four angels mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation. He believed the Beatles songs were telling him and his followers to prepare for the coming holocaust. Manson referred to this future uprising as "Helter Skelter". The words were also written in blood at the scene of one of the Manson Family murders. Because of this connection, Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who was involved in Manson's trial, named his best selling book about the murders Helter Skelter.
The full recorded version of the song was actually 27 minutes 11 seconds long. The recording was edited down to five minutes for the album. The full version included a long jam, which you just hear the end of after the song fades back in, followed by Ringo's "I've got blisters on my fingers!"
In 1988, rock band U2 recorded the song in concert for their Rattle and Hum movie and album. Bono's introduction to the song was "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back".